I was a bit taken aback by the response to the second anniversary mystery object last Friday. There were a huge number of comments and unfortunately I was tied up all day and was unable to respond – my sincere apologies!
To give you a change from the usual mammal skulls I gave you this bird to identify:
It’s quite a characteristic bird, so I decided to make it more of a challenge by leaving out the usual scale bar – if you’re interested the head of this specimen is about 10cm long.
Obviously the comparatively large head and massive bill were key features that were picked up on, giving the following answers:
I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of you managed to get the correct identification; it is indeed the skeleton of a Kookaburra, more specifically the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae (Hermann, 1783).
These large antipodean kingfishers have a very distinctive call, which sounds to me like the laugh of a clown from a nightmare. In fact, I expect these birds are a bit of a nightmare for any small critters that live in their vicinity. That big robust bill is powerful and they use it to eat a wide range of animals including worms, snakes, rats and even some fairly decent sized birds.
They aren’t subtle about their hunting either. They simply grab their prey in their bill and smash it on the ground, on a branch or on a rock then swallow it whole. Often they keep smashing it for quite a while – after all, swallowing a live snake or rat probably isn’t a great idea.
If you look at the skull you might notice a deep groove around the back and a deep indentation on the lower jaw or mandible:
These are muscle scars and it’s quite unusual to find such impressive areas for muscle attachment in bird skulls, but then most birds don’t rely quite as much on brute force to catch and subdue their prey. Kookaburras mean business.
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